Battle over tax rate continues

Water district settles on rollback rate

Meghann Garcia

Managing editor

Conflict of interest allegations and the legality of voting on a topic not listed as an action item on the agenda were debated Tuesday, when Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District directors rejected two proposals before giving tentative and divided approval to the tax rollback rate.

According to the Uvalde County Appraisal District, that rate is 1.22 cents per $100 valuation, two-hundredths of a cent more than the current rate of 1.20 cents.

Public input and adoption was scheduled for 6 and 6:30 p.m., respectively, on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

The motion to increase the district’s tax rate by 8 percent, made by Federico Flores, was seconded by Jim Maixner. Discussion indicated the amount should equal, not exceed, the rollback rate which is equal to 8 percent above the effective tax rate.

Dick Earnest voted in favor of the proposal, Steven McNew voted against it, and all other directors present  – Vic Hilderbran, Laura Ligocky, and Steve Cargil – abstained from the vote.

Nick Fohn was absent.

After Flores’ motion, directors temporarily identified the proposed rate as 1.3 cents, rounding up from 1.296 cents, which is 9 percent over the current tax rate of 1.2 cents. That rate would still have exceeded the rollback rate. After audience member Jared Capt said that was not an exact 8 percent increase, directors decided to let UCAD determine the rate.

Maixner and McNew were counted present for the meeting thanks to digital audio/video technology that, with some sound issues, allowed the two to participate in the meeting held at Texas A&M Research and Extension Center.

Last Thursday, another split vote at the same location forced directors to plan this meeting to propose a new tax rate. The public outcry during last week’s meeting led directors to scrap the planned 66-percent increase of 1.2 cents to 2 cents. Directors centered on that rate Sept. 11, with Flores, Earnest, Fohn and Maixner voting yes, Hilderbran and Cargil abstaining, and Ligocky and McNew absent.

As with last week’s meeting, the water district’s pending litigation against the Edwards Aquifer Authority was the main focus Tuesday, with Jared Capt presenting three sets of printouts of commentary on three agenda items; EAA elected director Rader Gilleland giving an overview of EAA rules on permit conversions and saying the EAA has been willing to work with UCUWCD; and Joey Weiblen, who admonished directors for their role in the lawsuit.

After hearing input from Capt and Gilleland, board directors turned their attention to agenda item six, which read, “Adoption of 2018-2019 budget and further discussion of tax rate for District, as needed.”

Maixner, participating via video, asked Hilderbran if the county government experienced similar backlash Monday, when county commissioners adopted a tax rate.

He asked if anyone complained about the county raising its tax rate on Monday and if anyone attended that meeting, to which Hilderbran said no one attended. The county’s overall rate decreased by one-half cent from its previous rate but is 1.71 cents above the effective rate, which is the rate needed to generate the same amount of taxes as raised the year prior.

“Don’t use the ploy of taxes when you can’t go to the county and complain to them, when you can’t go to the school board and complain to them…,” Maixner said. The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s overall tax rate decreased 4.78 cents but is 1.2 cents higher than the effective rate.

Maixner then proposed a tax rate of 1.9 cents per $100 valuation, just one-tenth of a cent less than the previously proposed rate.

Ligocky seconded Maixner’s motion, and Cargil asked for a roll call vote.

Capt then asked directors and water district legal counsel Celina Romero about voting on a tax rate when it was listed for discussion, not action.

Romero said this was not an official action, and the official vote will not take place until at least eight days after the Uvalde County Appraisal District advertisement, which identifies the proposed tax rate and information about the vote to select that rate, appears in the newspaper.

Weiblen then asked for the floor.

He said adoption of Maixner’s proposal would still be well over the rollback rate, which is triggered when taxing entities increase the tax rate higher than 8 percent above the effective tax rate, and be subject to an election.

He reiterated points made by Capt this week and last week regarding the district’s surplus, made up of cash and certificates of deposit, being adequate to cover increased expenses.

“If it wasn’t for Vic Hilderbran’s lawsuit, we wouldn’t be talking about a tax increase right now,” he said, also going on to say that board president Ligocky’s parents are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Cargil suggested the board be willing to cap the increase at 8 percent unless directors were willing to face a rollback election.

With Maixner’s motion still pending, Capt asked the water district’s legal counsel, Celina Romero, who was connected via telephone, to weigh in on conflicts of interest.

Romero said she believes Cargil and Ligocky should both abstain from votes on the lawsuit, and, as a result of the lawsuit’s effect on the tax rate, that issue as well.

Ligocky withdrew her second to Maixner’s motion, and it died for lack of a second.

McNew, via video, motioned to continue the current tax rate of 1.2 cents per $100 valuation. The motion died due to lack of a second.

Moments afterward, Flores made the successful motion for an 8 percent increase.

“We don’t want to have a rollback,” he said.

Capt’s comments

Speaking on three separate agenda topics, Capt urged directors to stand by comments made in last Thursday’s meeting regarding restrictions for conversion of base irrigation groundwater rights; review current EAA rules for clarity, as he believes the interests of the EAA, UCUWCD, city and county of Uvalde “are in fact not so different;” and to not increase the tax rate and instead pull from the district’s cash surplus for any expenses not covered by tax revenue generated by the 1.2 cent tax rate.

He distributed three separate handouts containing his comments for the official record.

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